Mumbai’s Durga Puja: Divinity is unapologetically female
Photo by Bhushan Koyande

Mumbai: Shivaji Park’s Durga Puja brings home thoughts of woman worship, to recognize the force of women in a world which deems them as the second sex.

“Our club is about 97-years-old and was started in Mumbai in 1922. This was mostly to help migrant Bengalis in the city feel at home. As part of our charitable work, we also clean beaches. Our idol is environmentally conscious and the soil to make it has been brought from the banks of the Hooghly River. Paddy leaves will also be used in the construction of the idol,” says Prasoon Rakshit from the Bengal Club’s media committee.

This will be the Dadar Shivaji Park’s Durga Puja Pandal’s 84th year. One of the oldest pujo pandals in Mumbai, the theme this year is “Sampoorna” – which translates to complete. Set to take place between October 3rd and 8th, the puja pandal is traditional in the sense that it will hold a Kumari Puja on Navami (i.e. the 9th) day, where like the convention is in Nepal, a girl child between the age of 3 and 8 is prayed to and considered a living goddess, into whose soul durga ma is known to descend. The idea that the feminine is “pure, divine and serene” is what prompts tradition in both Nepal and among Bengalis in India to worship a girl they consider to be the goddess’s incarnation on earth. Someone who embodies the qualities of fearlessness yet calmness, braveness and motherliness at the same time.

The Bengal Club which organises the Shivaji Park pujo every year, has roped in Nitin Desai, renowned art director for films and for Ganpati pandals in the city, to design their pandal this year. Indeed the carved woodwork on a massive area behind the temple there seemed like it was getting ready for a throng of devotees, waiting to welcome the Goddess into their midst this Navratri. Desai who has designed the sets of period dramas and romances like Devdas and Jodhaa Akbar, will suffuse the pandal with lights he has brought in from Chandannagar. The designer lights of the Chandannagar district of West Bengal will come here to our breezy city to make the palace setting more regal, princely and dramatic. The Benagli town is known for its expertise in lighting up many festivals in the Indian countryside by bringing the magic of LED light panels and bird, owl, ship and Eiffel Tower designs to different pandals.

The Puja was initialized on its first day, October 3rd, by the children of the Balak Vihar School in Dadar. The Club has now taken up the responsibility to give the students of this school a mid-day meal every Saturday. This free lunch will be offered along with the ISKCON society. The Club’s upcoming plans involve organising medical camps and giving free school attire to the girl students at this school.

Hence in an age where the news of the violation of women is the order of the day, the Shivaji Park club wants to use this occasion to remind us that women should be worshipped, protected and respected, and need to be admired as well just like living goddesses. Divinity is unapologetically female, the Bengali practice reminds us every year.

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